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Jul 27, 2007

Adu set to leave MLS for Europe

Can Freddy Adu, the one-time Golden Boy of Major League Soccer, really be set to leave the league that made him its poster boy less than four years ago?

Can Adu, fresh from a jaw-dropping performance at the U-20 World Cup, really be sold for a paltry $2 million?

Can the same player that Real Salt Lake traded the MLS equivalent of a mint to acquire really be a player that RSL is ready to let leave just eight months after trading for him?

None of the aforementioned statements would have made much sense just a year ago, but what has become clear in recent days and weeks is that Adu isn't the only one who wants Adu to go to Europe.

There once was a time -- not too long ago in fact -- when Real Salt Lake officials would be quick to denounce suggestions that Adu would be leaving for Europe this summer. He was supposed to be the face of their franchise, and the club had no intention of letting him go so soon after acquiring.

The situation in Utah, however, seems to have changed a bit. Now, as word of MLS accepting Benfica's $2 million bid for Adu surfaced, RSL officials are conspicuously indifferent about their young playmaker's potential departure.

"We're ecstatic if he stays," Real Salt Lake technical director John Ellinger told the Salt Lake Tribune. "But we're ecstatic for him if he leaves."

Ellinger doesn't have to say what has become clear to most observers: Real Salt Lake is hoping Adu leaves. The club can deny this, but if it really wanted him to stay it would simply have to tell the league and MLS would take down the "For Sale" sign on its most well-known young player.

You can't really blame Real Salt Lake. Adu is still a supremely talented prospect, but RSL can't afford to pay a prospect superstar money, which would be the case if the team kept him beyond this year. Retaining Adu as its designated player next season – assuming MLS picks up the option years on his contract after this season -- would be disastrous for a team that has far too many needs to afford that kind of luxury.

Would it be nice if Adu could stick around? Of course it would. Adu, Chris Seitz, Nathan Sturgis and newly-acquired midfielder Kyle Beckerman would give Real Salt Lake a nucleus that could turn things around in Utah. The problem for RSL is that, if Adu stayed, it would have few other options to improve the rest of the roster, which is woefully lacking in talent.

If Adu departs, RSL would receive a transfer fee it could use to buy players, gain considerable cap space and have a Designated Player slot it could then use on a player capable of dominating in MLS -- something Adu has yet to show he can do.

What does Adu want? He isn't saying but there's no reason to believe that he wants to stay in MLS. Adu delivered the star performance for the U.S. Under-20 national team at the World Cup and is ready to take advantage of the buzz from that showing to bolt while he still can. Yes, Adu turned down Benfica's initial contract offer, but chances of a deal being finalized this summer are still very good.

Is Adu ready for the move? The ability certainly is there, as Adu showed earlier this month at the U-20 World Cup. He proved that, if surrounded by talent and placed in his preferred playmaker role, he can make special plays. Adu also showed that he can perform when the pressure is on.

That is why a move to a club like Benfica is ideal for him. Going to an established European club with a tradition of developing attacking players is what Adu needs and Benfica fits that bill. He may not start right away, but Adu would escape the burden of expectations that still exists for him in MLS.

And what of MLS, which promoted Adu as the world's best young player when it signed him back in 2004? The league doesn't have much use for him now. Not with established stars like David Beckham coming to MLS and not with Red Bulls forward Jozy Altidore as a young player it can promote.

If anything, Adu's continued presence in MLS serves to remind us of the absurdity of the media storm the league helped create when Adu first arrived as a 14-year-old prodigy. The league helped create the unfair expectations that have followed Adu, the same ones that have led to him being unfairly labeled as a bust at the ripe old age of 18.

On some level you couldn't blame Adu if he wanted to stay in MLS and finally prove wrong the skeptics who have criticized him for the better part of four years. He doesn't have to stay in MLS to do that though.

Adu can -- and should -- go to Europe as soon as possible. He has the talent and potential to excel there and there really isn't anything keeping him in MLS. The league and Real Salt Lake have made that abundantly clear.

MLS Game Previews

There is a light schedule of MLS matches this week due to teams taking part in SuperLiga but there are still intriguing matchups.

Saturday

New England Revolution at Real Salt Lake

The Revolution's red-hot attack should overwhelm RSL, but look for Freddy Adu to make an impact. New England 3, Real Salt Lake 0.

Sunday

Chicago Fire at Toronto FC

Having Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Paulo Wanchope will help the Fire attack but Toronto is too tough at home. Toronto FC 1, Chicago 0.

Chivas USA at Kansas City Wizards

The Goats are coming off a big win against the Red Bulls but a rested Wizards team will punish that Chivas USA defense. Wizards 2, Chivas USA 0.

Thursday

Kansas City Wizards at New England Revolution

The Revs match up well with their East rivals and should move into first place with a win here. Revolution 2, Wizards 1.

Week of July 7th: 2-1-3

Overall record: 30-25-19

Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.) and writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.